All posts by kerensa

On second thoughts…

Gentle readers, particularly those who are interested in grammar,

I have been drafting posts for the blog on my professional website and  realise that I have probably bitten off more than I can chew.  I now feel that I am in the middle of writing a book on grammar, which, although interesting, and it may even develop into greater things, is unsustainable at the moment. Who knew that there were so many points to include about the humble apostrophe?!  (I have started drafting a post on that subject at your request, Surfing.)

So my suggestion is this: if you are interested in reading the posts on my other blog, please leave a comment below. I will then take that as permission to send you a private email with the URL of my other blog. I don’t want to link here because I’m trying to keep my rants separate from my professional persona.

I shall look forward to seeing you over at the other place.

English grammar: an introduction

Over the summer I attended a New Testament Greek class. It’s been great fun to be geeky about Greeky grammar with like-minded individuals. Of the eight of us, there were quite a few languages represented. My chum has a Polish background, there was someone who had studied Hebrew, another had some Latin and someone else had dabbled in a little Arabic. In the last lesson yesterday, our tutor, an enterprising Oxford Theology undergraduate, let us loose on translating verses from the Bible. In pairs, we puzzled out all the elements of grammar she had taught us; tenses, genders, cases, exceptions to the rules and so we creaked our way through the actual text rather than the practice sentences that had been used to demonstrate the point we had been learning.

Grammar provides the scaffolding for building sentences. English grammar has its pitfalls – and because I hear so many mistakes made in the British media these days – I am going to write a series of short posts on correct usage. Shockingly, basic mistakes are not only made in speech when one might be forgiven for speaking quickly or forgetting what one has said at the beginning of a long sentence, I see these mistakes in print, too.

The first post to be published shortly will be on when to use ‘I’ and ‘me’.

I know, I know. It seems elementary, dear Watson, but clearly not so simple because so many people get it so wrong. So frequently, in fact, that I cannot stay silent on the subject any longer.

Message for Surfing

Thanks for your kind comment, Surfing. I’m flattered you’ve missed my witterings.

I deliberately turned off the comments section as I have over 2,000 spam comments that have accumulated during  my absence. I would turn comments off on the “About” page as well, if I could work out how!

You’ll be pleased to know that my geeky friend sorted out my translation software (we think – the real test will come tomorrow morning!) and somehow I’ve just sorted out my access to this blog. I don’t know what I was doing previously – or what I did 5 minutes ago to find myself here! I shall have to hope that I manage to do it again when necessary.

Assuming that I do remember (although in my case one should assume nothing where technology is concerned), I hope to be back again soon.

Almost a year

It’s been almost a year since I last posted. Quite unbelievable!

I am still here – in some shape or form.

I think my main reason for not posting is that I have been struggling with technology. At the beginning of last April I bought a shiny new computer… and some shiny new translation software. It has made me tear my hair out. None more so than today.

I have been reduced to going back to my old computer (from where I am writing right now) to use the old version of the software. My customer says he can’t read it. I am in despair. This wretched software cost a few limbs and claims to save the busy translator time and money. Neither claim is true. I have lost literally hours and HOURS of time trying to sort out its bugs and wobbles, thus costing me time and money!! ARGH

I am expecting the client to thank me politely and take back the promised job (the fee for which for once would actually pay the  bills).

The other strand of technology woe is that I don’t seem to be able to get on to this blog from my new computer – which as you can imagine – is a bit of a drawback where blogging is concerned. I haven’t had the time or inclination to fight with technology in my “spare” time as well as in my work time (although my spare time has become my work time because I’ve needed to catch up on lost time… if you follow me).

A geeky friend is coming to stay tonight. If I am not in some soggy mass of tears by then, I may have the strength to ask him to help me. I’m sure he’ll manage the blog thing. The translation software could be a different matter.

So, hope all is well with y’all, gentle readers. I’m sure you’ve all found other ways to spend your time than read this rant… but if you have read it… believe me, it is remarkably measured considering how wound up and *&$£!!** frustrated I feel!

Working for a pittance

Mainly for Surfing, really, as she seems to be intrigued about the “weird and wacky world” I work in….

This e-mail pinged into my tray about 2 minutes ago:

Dear colleagues,
We have a file to be done in DE>EN by tomorrow noon (word count 2000+), low budget! Please send your CV to [details deleted to protect the guilty] if you are interested.
[A particular nationality] preferred!
Payment: Via PayPal!

Fabulous, isn’t it? The email arrives after most people have knocked off the weekend.  Not only does the esteemed Project Manager want the translator to churn out a full day’s work before noon GMT tomorrow she is not even going to countenance a living wage let alone the thought of a rush fee or overtime bonus. Having seen this sort of “offer” before, I can imagine how low the trumpeted “low budget” is. (The preferred nationality deleted is one where the cost of living is significantly lower than anywhere in the West). The country in question is approximately 5 hours ahead of the UK so the person who takes this job on (sent at a time when s/he was thinking of hitting the hay) will have to work all night to get it done in time for the GMT deadline set.

My outraged readers will also note that there is no indication of what the job entails… is it perhaps steel production processes or a corporate newsletter or a set of annual accounts or a document dealing with the finer details of cattle breeding?

I shall never know for being a Westerner, I know my modest rates will be too expensive and without any information about the subject area it is just too dangerous to even start negotiating (even if I wanted to).

The sad thing is, there will be some underworked/incompetent/unassertive translator in the country in question who will take the work on thus perpetuating this cycle of jobs being offered for peanuts. (And before you write loads of comments, believe me, the rates will be considered peanuts even in the low cost of living country). Meanwhile, the agency will cream off a healthy profit and the end-client will drift along in his misapprehension that 8-page translations can be churned out in a couple of hours. And don’t start me on issues of quality….

(…partly because I must turn my thoughts back to translating the bathroom catalogue I was doing before being so rudely interrupted!)



Career hits a new high

Gentle readers, I have not forgotten you [although I realise I am doing a pretty good impression of having done so] and have broken off from my high-flying international career to bring you news from the wordface that is sure to gladden your hearts as much as it has gladdened mine.

Let us increase the suspense a little and play a jolly game.

Am I translating an interview with

a) a world leader?

b) a great philanthropist?

c) an A-list celebrity?

d) a coat?



Gentle readers. There are some translators who do not like proofreading other people’s work at all and refuse to offer the service. I, on the other hand, quite like the exercise of titivating a text – a little addition here, a tweak there; it’s all quite satisfying as one is not actually having to do the brain-breaking work of untangling the foreign into the mother tongue. The worst has already been done and proofreading is really a bit of window dressing. Usually….

….Unless one’s client (an agency in this case that should know better) has used a non-native speaker to do the translation. This afternoon, I was asked to proofread an urgent text. It would arrive within two hours, (they attached the German original) and my task would be to tweak it. What the client omitted to say until it was too late for me to do anything about it was that the translator was a native German “very well-qualified technical translator” and so it *should* be a high standard.

It wasn’t. It wasn’t a case of it being utter rubbish – I could understand the target text – but it certainly wasn’t written in idiomatic English. I had an allotted 40 minutes to turn this gubbins into English like wot it should be spoke. Rather than tweaking, I was obliged to re-translate whole sentences. I was glad that I had insisted on my preferred fee rather than the risible amount originally offered.

What ARE these people thinking… not only was it a rather low standard but it was also a rush job – if 40 minutes isn’t considered a rush job, I don’t know what is. Gah! I turned it round in an hour and 15 minutes – so effectively worked at a loss in spite of the fee I had fought for. Harumph.

I shall have to add a new condition to my terms and conditions: do not offer me proofreading jobs translated by non-native speakers. I am happy to proofread – but I am not here to more or less teach other would-be professionals how to write accurately. And certainly not at such a low price.

So, dear clients, please stick to the professional code of ethics and use native speakers of the appropriate language to translate documents into the target language. No matter how well qualified they/you think they are. I shan’t mention it again. Nicely.


PS. Talking of mentioning things nicely: an agency for whom I have never actually done any work, but which occasionally contacts me, sent one of their traditional chaotic emails this morning.

“Hello, dear colleague,
we have a 11 page text to translate by tomorrow.  do you you have time for translation today?  if yes, we will send you the text.”
I am sick to the back teeth of politely telling this outfit that I need more information if they want a serious reply. Gritting the aforesaid dentals, I wrote a slightly less than courteous reply (I don’t really care if they never contact me as I’m not sure I really want to be associated with them, they are so unprofessional and do not instil confidence):

“Dear Agency

Unfortunately on this occasion I do not have any spare capacity.
I should be grateful if in the future you would specify the number of
words, the precise deadline and the subject area of the text. This
will save precious minutes in the process of accepting urgent jobs for all

This is not the first time that I have suggested you do this and I
should be grateful if you would bear these small but important details
in mind for the future.”

I was slightly more than surprised to receive the following breathless response only seconds later:

“O thank you very much, we will!”

I am doubtful… but shall report back if they change their spots…

There was a village in Gaul…

.. where the locals had names such as Asterix, Obelix, Getafix, Cacophonix, etc. I have been reminded of this community because today I am translating the marketing blurb for a hair company. Their products seem to have been somewhat influenced by the “-ix” suffix. (Ha. There’s another one… is it catching?) It’s keeping me amused, anyway….

Sometimes one wonders

just quite what the point is.

Take today’s little task. I am engaged in translating the blurbs for some films to be shown at a German-speaking cinema. The cinema is clearly quite excited about showing these mainly American films (a couple of French, one Italian) to the international audience it hopes to attract.

Your bewildered translator sometimes wonders if a) she has completely lost the plot or b) if she actually understands German any more.

The blurbs have been largely translated from American English into German. I am now translating them back into English. This raises little questions such as “shall I write ‘contract killer’ as the German says, or check out the film’s official website to see if they use the word ‘assassin’?  (They do… if you’re interested…).

All this checking would be all well and good ***if*** it were going to serve any purpose. But I suspect it isn’t. Why? Because in their breathless introduction about their programme, the cinema tells the film fans that these films will all be shown in German… i.e. dubbed. So not in the original language with German subtitles… or even in German with English subtitles.

It makes me wonder why I’m bothering. If their non-native-German-speaking audience can speak German well enough to understand a film in German, they will hardly need the blurb in English. If the foreigners don’t understand German well enough, the few sentences of blurb will not be enough to see the audience through the twists and turns of the plot to make it worth their while sitting through the film.

Ho hum. Another pleasant Sunday afternoon spent in front of the computer screen.

I started a new pad of Garfield post-its today. The previous batch showed Garfield saying “Everyone’s entitled to my opinion.” It always made me smile. Today’s batch made me laugh out loud: “I might as well work, I’m in a bad mood as it is”.

I’m not in a bad mood exactly; just a tad exasperated.

The 11th commandment

was revealed to me some years ago by a young mother who had had four children in quick succession. Her days were full of childcare routines, feeding, changing nappies, wiping snotty noses, preparing meals, etc and her nights were all broken – for years – as the children seemed to have a rota going for waking up. Just as one had been lulled off to sleep in the wee hours, another would wake up wailing.

Stuck to her fridge in her understandably chaotic kitchen was the 11th commandment: Thou shalt bash on.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not ungrateful to my lovely client for choosing me to deliver this current project single-handed. (They could have distributed it amongst several translators to get it finished faster – which is common practice – and I would have earned a fraction of my anticipated fee). I am just feeling a little weary as I have worked longish days since the beginning of the year (4 Jan) including every Saturday and Sunday.

On beautiful sunny days such as this, I sometimes think I have chosen a peculiar way to earn a living! No doubt there are worse (I think I have probably experienced worse, actually) and so it is time to grit the teeth, put the shoulder to the wheel, the nose to the grindstone, the brain in gear and quote the 11th commandment: Thou shalt bash on.